Saturday, March 5, 2016

Riding Side Saddle

Last month I showed you what it took to live, work, and play on an Alberta ranch during winter. This month as I prepared for my post on ranch women, I found some interesting photos of women riding and standing by their horses, both astride and side saddle. I thought you might like to view them as well.

Although I don't think I could bear to ride side saddle while wearing a corset, I've read enough accounts from women who say that a corset helps keep them upright and balanced. Personally, I'd have trouble with a corset alone, so I'm not going to judge, but see here for yourself...

Two ladies riding side saddle at Wetaskiwin, Alberta, 1898. Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

The main difference between a side saddle and a regular western saddle is the placement of the pommel, which is also called the horn. On the double pommel side saddle below, the two upright pommels would keep the right leg in place, and the left leg would be held by the downward curving leaping horn. Invented in 1830, the added control of the leaping horn allowed female riders the ability to jump over fences and hedgerows without unseating themselves. 

Side saddle on the left courtesy of wikipedia. Western saddle on right courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives.

Mabel Rothwell and Bella riding in the Rockies, Alberta, 1908. 
Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta
The pommel on a western saddle was created out of a need for tying off a rope while working in the cattle industry. 

Of course, some women wanted to ride regardless of the type of saddle available to them, as can be seen in this 1908 photo of an excursion in the Rockies, west of Calgary.

I'm unsure what the woman on the left is doing, but the one on the right looks like she's having a wagon-load of fun, judging by the immense grin on her face.

I can relate because I've been on trail rides in the Rockies west of Calgary, as well as the foothills between them, and I can attest that it's a glorious feeling to be riding in the mountains where every turn brings a spectacular vista of mountain peaks and mirrored lakes. Such images are to be treasured when I'm back on our own land here on the flat prairies.

Although some side saddles contained a leather grip to hang onto in times of need, not all had that luxury. Like the offside pouch shown on some of these photos, it depended on the make and quality of the saddle. Many riders were expected to grab onto the leather itself when the third pommel diminished in size and then disappeared altogether from new saddle versions somewhere between 1870-1880. 

Margaret Clinkskill watering her horse on the South Saskatchewan River. Courtesy of Morton Manuscripts Collection, University of Saskatchewan Library

Miss Millicent Cox, on saddle horse, Cox ranch, Pincher Creek, Alberta, c1910's. Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Scholfield at Marna Ranch, Pincher Creek area, Alberta, 1892. Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

In this next image we see the Millar girls using different styles to ride their show horses through 1912 Calgary. Clearly, you can see the third horn on seventeen-year-old Elsie's side saddle although to my eyes from this angle, it doesn't look very comfortable.

Millar girls riding their show horses, Calgary, Alberta, 1912. Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

I found this image very interesting as it shows a woman riding astride during a jumping event in 1900-1903 Calgary.

Jumping class, horse show, Calgary, Alberta, ca 1900-1903. Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

In 1915 Esther Stace broke the height record by jumping a 6' 6" fence during the Sydney Royal Easter Show with the use of a leaping horn.

Mrs. Esther Stace, from Yarrowitch, riding side saddle and clearing a record 6'6"
at the Sydney Royal Show, 1915. Courtesy of Wikipedia

However, in 1936, Mrs. Doreen Archer Houblon of the United Kingdom improved on the leaping horn by inventing the leaping head. The leaping head is designed for the rider to have an extreme forward seat when jumping fences or higher obstacles. 

A side saddle rider adjusts her girth in the
warm-up ring at the 1986 Devon Horse Show in
Devon, PA, USA. Courtesy of Wikipedia
There are also side saddles with versatile leaping horns/heads which can be adjusted from the regular to the extreme position.

The image on the right shows a rider at the 1986 Devon Horse Show in Devon, Pennsylvania. Because she's only in the warm-up ring, she's not required to wear the traditional long skirt or apron and so we can see the position of the pommel and leaping head. However, she'll have to cover up when it's her turn to compete.

Although I don't normally promote contemporary movies and images here at Heroes, Heroines, and History, I went searching for a video to show how one rides with a side saddle, and found one with Angelina Jolie learning how to do it, never mind shooting at the same time. I found it refreshing to see and hear a modern woman's take on this old skill. The clip was taken on the set of her 2003 movie, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life and you can watch it here.

So, are you ready for a recap of saddle differences before my final question? Look at these...

Mr. and Mrs. John Clark, Crowfoot, Alberta, 1909. Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

Allie and Percy Irving at John A. Irving home, Davisburg, Alberta, 1900. Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

Okay, here we go... Look at this next image... 

Isabelle M. Lawson and saddle horse, Springbank area, Alberta. 1907. Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

What type of saddle is mounted on the happy woman's horse? Can you tell the difference?


Anita Mae Draper's stories are written under the western skies where she lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan with her hubby of 30 plus years and the youngest of their four kids. When she's not writing, Anita enjoys photography, research, and travel, and is especially happy when she can combine the three in one trip. Anita's current release is Romantic Refinements, a novella in Austen in Austin Volume 1, WhiteFire Publishing, January 2016. Anita is represented by Mary Keeley of Books & Such Literary Management. You can find Anita Mae at


  1. Great article Anita, I really enjoyed it.

    1. Thank you, Christine. I appreciate you coming over.

  2. Awesome post! Thanks Anita. I always had wonder about the side saddle us ladies back in the day was considered "norm". Thanks for sharing this!

    1. You're welcome, Annie, very glad you liked it. Thanks for visiting me here today.

  3. This is a fascinating post! I loved all the pictures and information. Thank you for sharing, Anita!

    1. You're welcome, Beth. And thank you for letting me know. :)

  4. I just saw a side saddle on gunsmoke with miss kitty aboard. You had the only pic.